August 3rd, 1958 @ 7:30 PM
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
THE IMPERATIVE "NOW"
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
8-3-58 7:30 p. m.
Now, in our Bible, we turn to the second Corinthian letter: Corinthians, the second Corinthian letter, the fifth chapter – Second Corinthians 5. We begin reading at the seventeenth verse. Read to the end of the chapter and through the first two verses of chapter six: 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2 – from the seventeenth verse of the fifth chapter through the second verse of the sixth chapter. Now, we have it? Let’s all read it together. Second Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath committed to us the ministry of reconciliation,
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.
[2 Corinthians 5:17-21]
We then, as workers together with Him beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
For He saith: "I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee. Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
[2 Corinthians 6:1-2]
You have just read one of the great appeals in the Bible. This by the apostle Paul in behalf of Christ our Lord: "that ye be reconciled to God that ye receive not the grace of God in vain" [from 2 Corinthians 5:21-6:1]. Then he quotes from the Scriptures. "I have heard thee," quoting from the Lord. ‘"I have heard thee in a time accepted, in the day of salvation have I succoured and nurtured thee.’ Behold, now is that time, the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:1-2].
And this sermon tonight is an appeal for Christ that you give your heart to Him, and it is based upon this text in 2 Corinthians 6:2: "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.
In 168 BC there was a cruel and merciless king who was the lord over Syria. He was a monarch with a passion for conquest. And having overrun all of the Middle East where so much trouble now is brewing, he went down into Egypt to subdue Egypt. He must have been a man of great military acumen for he won all the land of Egypt and was besieging the pharaoh, the Ptolemy, in Alexandria, the greatest city of Egypt.
But when Antiochus Epiphanes [215-164 BCE] took his army down into Egypt, for the first time, the East met the West in ancient history. For the first time, he ran into the power of the Roman Republic for the Valley of the Nile was the granary, the wheat fields, that supported the Roman populace. Consequently, when Antiochus warred against Egypt, he threatened the food supply of the Roman world.
The Roman Senate sent down there to Egypt Gaius Popillius Laenas, their ambassador, plenipotentiary, and they gave him instruction to tell Antiochus to leave the Valley of the Nile alone and to take his army out of Egypt or face war with Rome. So Popillius went down into Egypt and accosted Antiochus who, with his armies, was besieging the Egyptian king in Alexandria. And Popillius gave him the message of the Roman Senate to take his army out of Egypt and to lift this siege, and Antiochus demurred. He said, "Give me time to think of it. Give me time to converse with my ministers, and I will return you an answer."
When Antiochus said that, Gaius Popillius Laenas took his staff and in the Egyptian sand he drew a circle around Antiochus Epiphanes and said, "Before you leave that circle, you will give me an answer that I can return to the Roman Senate. Of course, Antiochus capitulated and took his army out of Egypt and wasted Israel instead.
That historical incident is so true of you here tonight. The Holy Spirit of God draws a circle around you where you sit, and before this service is done, the Spirit of God will return an answer to Christ what you do with Jesus. "Behold, now is the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2].
A little boy met the minister on the street in a little New England village, and the little fellow was under great conviction. And going to the minister, as he met him on the street, he said, "I feel so convicted. What must I do to be saved?"
And the minister said, "Son, you go to your bedroom and kneel down by the side of the bed and give your heart to Jesus.
And the little boy said, "Oh, sir, I feel so heavy in my heart. I don’t believe I can live till I get to my bedroom to kneel down and pray.
And unconsciously rebuked by the little fellow, the minister then replied, "Son, give your heart to Jesus now, right now. Then go home to your bedroom and kneel by the bed and tell Jesus all about it.
"Behold, now is the accepted time. Behold, now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Not tomorrow. Not some other day or some other time. It is now. The decision is to be made now. This sermon tonight is an appeal to you to give your heart to Christ – to the child, to the youth, to fathers and mothers, to parents, to whole families tonight to take Jesus as Savior. Why doesn’t everyone do that? Why should there be a minister to appeal to a family, to a youth, to you to give your heart to the Lord? Why? Why don’t we just do it?
Well, there’s a reason, and it is this. In the Book of Zechariah, he saw a vision: Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord and Satan standing at his right hand to oppose him [Zechariah 3:1]. That’s why. When the minister makes an appeal to your heart and the preacher pleads the cause of Christ, at your right hand stands Satan to oppose. And when the preacher reads his text: "Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2], Satan is there by your side, and he whispers to you and he says, "He’s trying to rush you. He’s trying to get you down that aisle. He’s trying to rush you. Why, you don’t want to be rushed into that. Why, that creature would have you down there confessing Jesus as your Savior and giving your life to Him, and he’d have it right now. Yeah, he’s trying to push you. He’s trying to rush you, but don’t you be rushed and don’t you be pushed!"
This thing is just the same thing as if you were on a ship that was sinking and I say to you, "Here is the life boat. Come!" And somebody says, "He’s just trying to rush you.
"But the boat is sinking!"
"He’s just trying to rush you.
Same kind of a thing as if I found you bleeding in a terrible accident and I say, "We must take this man to the doctor!" And somebody say, "You’re just trying to rush him. You just trying to push him.
Out there at Baylor Hospital Friday as I walked out the door, on the ambulance side there came driving furiously up a fellow, and he had a man by his side. When the attendant came out, he said, "Quick! This man has had a terrible heart attack. I can imagine fellow standing by saying, "He’s just trying to rush you, isn’t he? Trying to rush you.
Oh, my soul, listen! I’m not talking about just physical life. I’m not talking about a heart attack. I’m not talking about just the sinking of a ship that might drown this physical body. I am talking about you. Fellow, listen! "He that believeth not is condemned already!" [John 3:18]
Not yet. Not about to. Not tomorrow or some other day. It is now. You are condemned now. At any moment, God may call you to give an account at the Great Judgment Bar. Rush you? "Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2].
Why doesn’t a fellow come to Jesus? By his side is Satan [Zechariah 3:1]. And when I make appeal, he whispers in your heart and he says, "Now wait a minute. You wait a minute. There’s a whole lot more to that business. And that creature makes out like you’re not saved just by giving your life to Jesus. You not saved just by going down that aisle and confessing your heart to Christ. You listen. Satan says there’s a lot of mysteries about that thing, and you don’t understand them. Ah! It’s a mystery about that. There’s a lot of mystery about the new birth, lot of mystery about the Kingdom of God, lot of mystery about the atonement, lot of mysteries about the resurrection. You don’t want to get into that. Lot of things you don’t understand. "So he says, "You wait a while. Not now. You wait.
I confess Satan’s correct in his observation. There’s a lot of mystery in the Kingdom of Jesus, lots of things that we don’t understand. But I also avow this axiom: There’s not anything a man cannot understand that concerns his duty to God. It’s plain, and it’s simple. God says we must confess our sins [1 John 1:9]. I know what that means and you do. God says we must ask the forgiveness of our sins. If we die in unforgiven sin, it is damnation for us. I must ask God to forgive my sins. I must look in faith, in trust, in committal to Jesus [Numbers 21:6-9; John 3:14-16]. Some day I shall die [Hebrews 9:27],and I must look to Him to keep me and save me. I must openly, publicly avow that confession of faith in Jesus [Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:9-10]. There’s not anything about what I ought to do, there’s not anything about my duty that is mysterious.
When you come to think of it, my brother, everything in this life, in this world, up above you, down underneath you, inside of you and all around you, all of it is inexplicable and mysterious. No man can explain anything ultimately in this life – nothing at all! Nothing.
When I was in India, I stood on the shores of the Indian Ocean and it looked to me as though the ocean was down there in the basin of sea and the sky above, and we’s walking around. Sometime later, I was standing on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and it seemed to me the Gulf was there in its basin and the sky above, and I was walking around. And when you get a globe, they are just the opposite. If this ocean is on top, then this one here’s on the bottom; and if we’re walking upright down here, those people are walking on their heads in India.
Well, that’s a mystery isn’t it? Why doesn’t that ocean spill out down there? Or if it’s this way, why doesn’t this one spill out up here? And if we’re walking straight up on this side, why don’t they fall off walking on their heads down there?
Well, you go to a scientist and you ask him about that: "What is it that holds that world together, keeps those oceans in their basins and all of us on this thing? What is it holds this world together?"
He says, "Why, that’s a very simple thing. What holds this world together is gravity. Gravity holds this world together.
Then you ask him, "Mr. Scientist, and what is gravity?" And he gives us the profound, elucidating reply: "Well, gravity is what holds the world together.
You don’t know nor can any man explain. It’s the mystery of the universe. Yet I walk around. I don’t understand it. That doesn’t keep me from walking around, standing right here.
Same thing about eating, about sleeping, about marrying, and having children. There’s no process of life but that has in it an inexplicable mystery, and no man can understand it. What happens to you when you go to sleep? Did you ever remember going to sleep? Did you ever go to sleep, any of you? Did you? Did you ever go to sleep? Did you ever remember one time when you went to sleep? Isn’t that the screwiest, craziest, most idiotic thing in your life? Why, how is it and what happens to you when you go to sleep? No scientist knows. No man in this world knows. That doesn’t keep me from going to sleep. I just sleep. Don’t understand [snore]. Aah, sleep.
Same thing about eating. Did you know eating has in it the deepest, profoundest mystery of life? Eating does. How is it that beans, and potatoes, and onions, and pickles, and hamburgers, and chili, and tamales, and steak and bread make you? How is that? You? "Yeah," but you say, "I’m not chilies, and hot tamale, and steak, and beans. Well brother, just don’t eat for a while and see what happens to you. Just try it. Just try it. Just try it. Man, that’s what you are. You are a walking, living memorial to beans, and hot dogs, and hamburgers, and chili. That’s what you are.
Now just somebody come up here and explain to me, explain to anybody, the processes of assimilation. How is it that you can eat inert matter and it becomes you? "Nobody knows. Nobody understands. Therefore, I won’t eat!" He’d be an idjit who didn’t eat on that account. And it’s the same thing with all of the mysteries of life. These great, profound things are beyond us and our minds to kin to understand, to know, to enter into, to explain. That doesn’t mean that I can’t share in them. I eat and enjoy it, and I sleep and thank God for the rest that comes of it.
And I trust in Jesus, and there’s a reward and a recompense that "passeth all understanding" [Philippians 4:7] though I cannot explain to you the mystery of my soul, nor can I delineate all of the intricacies by which a man could know and love God, nor can I explain the unfathomable mercies and grace of Jesus on the cross, nor am I able to satisfactorily answer questions about the resurrection and the glory of the life that is to come. All I know is God does it, and it’s glorious and wonderful beyond compare.
And when Satan says, "Don’t you come. You don’t understand," my man, then neither could you eat, then neither could you sleep, nor even could you walk around on the face of the globe. These things all are gifts of God from His inscrutable hand. "Behold, now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation" [Galatians 6:2]. Come now.
And then Satan whispers, "Don’t you go now. Don’t you go now. You’re coming along all right. This thing of conversion is a progressive thing, and you’re coming along. That’s one of the great revelations in the Bible. Conversion is not a progressive thing. A conversion is a beginning, and a man doesn’t begin progressively. He either begins, or he doesn’t begin. I’m in, or I’m out. I’m saved, or I’m lost. I have followed Christ, or I haven’t. I obey, or I disobey. I take Him as Savior, or I don’t take Him as Savior. I confess Him, or I don’t confess Him.
Whenever that time was that you began toward Jesus, that’s your conversion. That’s it, and it leads all the way to heaven [1 John 5:11-13]. "Preacher, you just don’t understand. I’m – I’m coming along, but I’m not making that confession. I’m not giving my heart to Jesus. I won’t say "no," and I won’t say "yes. I’m just gray, not white or black. And I’m just not going to make a decision tonight.
Oh, fellow, fellow! You can’t help it. God put us in this kind of a world, and when I’m like Pontius Pilate – "Bring me water. Bring me water, and I’ll wash my hands of it. I refuse to make any such decision!" [from Matthew 27:24] He washes his hands. He washes his hands and thinks he makes no decision.
When you go to Lucerne [Switzerland], there just beyond the city is Mount Pilatus – Mount Pilate – Pilatus. And they have the tradition Pontius Pilate’s body was buried in that lake. And they have the tradition for the centuries since that those peasants in the eventide, in the twilight and shades of the night, they see Pontius Pilate rise from the depths of that lake and wash his hands in the clear, blue water.
"I won’t make a decision. I wash my hands of it. Man, you can’t. You can’t [Luke 11:23]. You return a word. It’s "yes," or it’s "no.
Well, I may not go down that aisle. I may not give my heart to the Lord. And I may not take Him as Savior, but I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll go out here and I’ll join the Lodge, and I’ll join the club, and I’ll work in politics, and I’ll work in civic amelioration. And I’ll go out here, and I’ll just do lots of things.
Well, that pleases Satan. Anything in the world that he can persuade you to do except to give your heart to Him and to put your life in His church. He’s delighted with that. Anything – doesn’t matter to him. Join the Lodge? That’s all right with him. Join the PTA? That’s all right with him. Join the civic club? That’s all right with him. Go in for social work? That’s all right with him.
It doesn’t matter to Satan what you do. Just don’t do this: don’t give your heart to Jesus. Don’t be a Christian. Don’t bury your life in the fellowship and communion of our Savior.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not Christ, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not Christ, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not Christ, it profiteth me nothing.
Christ never faileth. Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail;
Whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
But there abideth faith, hope, and Christ; and the greatest of these is Christ.
[from 1 Corinthians 13:1-4, 8, 13]
"Now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. One last thing out of a multitude, one other thing. Why don’t you come down that aisle? Why don’t you give your heart to the Lord? Why? Satan stands at your right hand to oppose [Zechariah 3:1]. And he says – now listen to what he says, "You’re not ready. You’re not ready. Listen fellow, you’ve got to do some things first. You’ve got to patch up that. Remember? And you have to mend that. Remember? And you’ve got to change that. Remember? You’ve got to do a whole lot of rearranging before you go down that aisle. Remember?"
That’s what he says. So he keeps you day after day, year after year, patching up, mending, ameliorating, trying to change things, and he’ll do it till you die. How much gospel is in that old-timey hymn:
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If ye tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all
And the chorus they used to sing:
I will arise and go to Jesus.
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.
["Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy," by Joseph Hart, 1759]
Come just like you are. Come, sin and all; come, fault and all; come, guilt and all; come with all of the laden burdens of life on your soul [Matthew 11:28-30]. Come just like you are and welcome. Jesus wants you just like you are, just as you are. Come just as you are.
He won’t love you any more if you wash yourself. He won’t love you any more if you clean up because soap and water and the reformation you can do still leaves us covered with filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6] and running sores. Our cleansing is on the inside [Psalm 51:10]. It’s something God has to do for us [Psalm 51:7]. Come just like you are. Jesus won’t love you any better when you try to patch up and change and ameliorate and mend your life. He loves you just like you are. And let Him do the rest. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.
You know, I can show you that exactly. In the days of this World War [World War II], I went down to McCloskey Hospital which was the great amputee center of the United States Army. You never saw sights that wring your heart as you would have seen down there: those young fellows seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-two years of age, mutilated. And there at that McCloskey center, they were trying to rehabilitate those young fellows: teaching a boy without any legs how to walk; teaching a boy without any arms how to work with those mechanical instruments; how to teach a boy who was so shocked that he couldn’t hold down a job – hurt in his head or ruined in his nervous system – how to live with himself.
And one of those boys that I talked to, an amputee, was blind. In the terrible shock of the battle, he not only had lost some of his limbs but he had also lost his eyes. And I visited with the young fellow. He had a wife in Seattle, and he told me about that wife and how she had written to him, how he was looking forward to going home. And he just kept telling me about that precious wife up there in Seattle. And he closed his little farewell to me with this happy announcement: "And, sir," he said, "In three more weeks, I shall see my wife again.
And I walked away, and then it just dawned on me. "In three more weeks, I shall see my wife again. Why, man he was blind. What had happened was that wife had so loved that boy and written that boy and made him feel so welcome that he himself, as he thought of her, forgot he was blind.
I don’t know who that girl is, but she had a touch of the Spirit of Jesus who makes us forget that we are vile sinners, who receives us as though we were every whit whole, who makes us forget the faults and failures of our lives and receives us as though we had never fallen [Romans 5:1]. Man, just like you are – blind and all, crippled and all, hurt and all – just like you are [Isaiah 1:18], come, fellow. Come. Come. Come. "Behold now is the day of salvation" [2 Corinthians 6:2]. Now is God’s accepted time. Come. Come. Come.
You who are in this balcony around, down these stairwells at the front, at the back, come. Come.
In this great throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, come, come. "Pastor, tonight, I give my heart to Jesus. Here I am," or, "Tonight, I’m coming into the fellowship of the church. Here I come.
As God shall open the door, shall lead the way, shall whisper in your soul, "Come. Come!" While we stand and while we sing.